Tuesday, November 13, 2018

THE CHILDREN OF OSKAR BARNACK, INVENTOR OF THE LEICA


 

Every once in a while we are surprised by some unexpected news regarding Leica and its history.  Most Leica aficionados are familiar with Oskar Barnack.  After all, he is the father of the Leica and 35mm photography as we know it.  Few, however, are aware that there are two other Barnacks with a connection to the Leica, Oskar Barnack’s children Conrad and Hana.

LEICA Barnack Berek Blog reader Chris Dorley-Brown from London, UK, sent me the following email:

Dear Heinz,

I have been looking at the Blog and wondered if you would be interested in this picture taken by my father in 1947, the man on the left is Conrad Barnack, son of Oskar.
My dad met Conrad as a British Army POW in WW2. Conrad was a prison orderly and taught my dad to speak German. They remained friends and after the war got together frequently. He gave dad a Leica and he shot one roll of Kodachrome but preferred his Rolleiflex so he gave it back to Conrad!  I still have that roll of Kodachrome which is in great condition after nearly 70 years. I am a photographer myself and always feel a connection with this part of the medium’s history, which I thought I would share with you.

best wishes

Chris Dorley-Brown
London

 
Conrad Barnack (left) with friends

That made me think of the fact that I had never seen a picture of Conrad Barnack, and I decided to look a bit further into this.  An internet search revealed a few more things.  Oscar Barnack had two children, Johanna, born in 1906, and Conrad, born in 1908.  Searching further I found one more photograph, published by liveauctioneers.  It shows Conrad Barnack together with his sister Johanna.  They commented the following about this picture:

 
Conrad and Johanna Barnack
Photo Used with permission of liveauctioneers

"Barnack was particularly fond of Hanna’s blond locks; many photographs show her alone, several together with Conrad. There are only a few images of Conrad alone. A comparison with later pictures of the two indicates that these were taken in the summer of 1914. Conrad had started going to school, which is when boys began to wear sailor shirts. The gaze of the shy child is already mixed by the saucy expression of a future rascal. The children knew to keep still when their father was taking a photograph – this was true of the Ur-Leica too, as the film was not very sensitive. This is apparent from the shadows, which are not very differentiated. This is a very early image taken with the Ur-Leica."


Unfortunately their site does not show any other pictures of Barnack’s children at all, and neither do any other.  But through the efforts of Chris Dorley-Brown and liveauctioneers  who gave us permission to use these pictures of Conrad and Johanna, we are able to learn a little bit more about his descendants.


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Monday, November 12, 2018

THE LEGENDARY LEITZ THAMBAR AND ITS MODERN RENAISSANCE


From the very beginning, Leica lenses have always had a very high reputation for their sharpness and their special tonal performance.  This was a prerequisite, demanded by Oskar Barnck and realized by Max Berek with even his first lens designs for the Leica.

As a matter of fact, Leitz had been criticized from time to time for not having any good portrait lenses.  Many Leica users thought that the Leica lenses were often too sharp for portrait work.  That gave the impetus for Max Berek to design the Leitz Thambar at the beginning of the 1930s.

 

The Thambar was a soft focus lens, displaying some rather unique characteristics, which made it one of the premier portrait lenses of the time.  The soft focus effect was the result of the lens having been purposely designed with a considerable amount of residual spherical aberration.  The name Thambar was derived from Greek, meaning “something that inspires wonder”, or wonderful.  The lens was comprised of four elements, with the two central elements cemented to form one group.  A very similar formula was later chosen for the 125mm Hektor for use on the Visoflex.

 
Leitz Thambar on a Leica IIIc with VIDOM viewfinder

The spherical aberration of the lens was produced primarily at the outer perimeter of the lens.  Stopping it down to smaller apertures would reduce this effect and it was totally eliminated at f/9.  To further enhance the soft focus effect, the lens came supplied with a special, clear filter that had a one centimeter mirrored spot in the center which eliminated the sharp image created by the center of the lens.

 
Element configuration of the Thambar with installed filter on left

 
Leitz New York Thambar brochure

The maximum aperture of the lens was f/2.2.  This was reduced to f/2.3 with the center spot filter in place.  For that reason the Thambar had two aperture scales, one in white for the f/stops without the filter and one in red for the stops with the filter installed.  The red scale went from f/2.3 to f/6.3 because above f/6.3 the filter became useless.  The maximum soft focus effect was obtained with the lens wide open and with the filter installed.  Stopping the lens down would diminish this effect, thus giving the photographer full control over the amount of soft focus.  Photographing with back lighting or lighting that produced flare would further increase the soft focus effect.  The distance of the subject also had a significant effect on the softness.

The Thambar actually was relatively difficult to use because the rangefinder of the camera did not allow the soft focus effect of the lens to be seen.  Subsequently a fair amount of experience was necessary to use the lens effectively.

The production of the lens started on 1935 and ended in 1949.  According to company records, about 3000 lenses were produced.  Today the Thambar is one of the most sought after pieces by Leica collectors.  Even though a production of 3000 lenses is not all that rare, it is difficult to find complete sets with the original filter, and sets complete with the filter and the original red boxes are quite rare.  The Thambar is indeed a legendary piece of equipment among Leica enthusiasts.

Now Leica has reissued the Thambar.  It is basically identical to the original with only a few changes.  Leica writes:

A legend reborn: following the Leica Summaron-M 1:5.6/28, Leica Camera AG has further expanded its lens portfolio with the Thambar-M 1:2.2/90, the modern renaissance of another classic lens. Just like its namesake from 1935, the contemporary incarnation of the lens is distinguished by its characteristic soft-focus effect and unmistakable bokeh. Its focal length of 90 mm is suitable for photography in a multitude of scenarios and is as good as predestined for capturing portraits with a uniquely aesthetic atmosphere that cannot be reproduced in digital postprocessing. The new Thambar-M is thus an exciting addition to the existing Leica M lens portfolio and brings photographers entirely new possibilities for creative composition.


The optical design of its ancestor remains almost unchanged in the new Thambar-M 1:2.2/90. It has therefore also inherited the characteristic properties of its predecessor. The only difference is that the four elements in three groups that make up the design have now been single-coated to protect the glass against environmental influences and surface corrosion. The 20 blades of its iris deliver a unique bokeh with perfectly round rendition of point light sources.

The soft look of the Thambar is the result of intentionally accepted under-correction of spherical aberration. This under-correction increases towards the edges of the optical system with the consequence that not only the depth of focus, but also the degree of softening can be precisely controlled by means of the stepless aperture setting. The effect is more pronounced as apertures increase, and is continually reduced as the lens is stopped down to smaller apertures.


The design of the original lens has been almost completely preserved in today’s Thambar-M 1:2.2/90. The black paint finish, the proportions of the lens and its aperture engravings in red and white correspond to the appearance of the original. In addition to this, slight modifications have been made that bring the lens into line with the current, minimalist design of modern M-Lenses. These include the knurling, the lettering and scales and the specific use of sharp edges and bevelling that underline the precision of the lens design.

‘The name Thambar has always been preceded by the adjective ‘legendary’ – rightly so. It portrays people with a wonderful aura, in a romantic way – but landscapes too are raised to a higher, incomparably aesthetic plane. The addition of a new incarnation of this classic lens to our selection of vintage lenses was one of our greatest wishes – to my great delight, this wish has now been fulfilled.’ emphasises Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, majority shareholder and chairman of the supervisory board of Leica Camera AG.
As is the case with all Leica lenses, the Leica Thambar-M 1:2.2/90 is also manufactured in strict compliance with the most stringent quality criteria. The use of only the best materials in its construction guarantee the familiar long working life of all Leica lenses. As was the case with the original lens, the lens hood, the ring of the centre-spot filter and both front and rear lens caps are made of metal. Even smallest details, like the felt lining of the lens hood and the front cap, contribute to the exceptional perceived quality of this lens. The design of the rigid lens keeper in ‘Vintage Brown’ leather is identical to that of the original from 80 years ago in almost every respect and, as in the past, the centre-spot filter can be safely and conveniently stowed away in its lid.

Here is additional information from our friends at Leica Store Miami

RDF_Banner_2

Leica has announced the new Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 lens for the Leica M-System. Much like the Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 re-issue last year, the Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 features a similar optical design to the original Thambar, which was produced from 1930-1939, but with modern construction and lens coatings (and it’s 6-bit coded too!).

Leitz_Thambar_Leica Thambar-M_RGB
The original Thambar, left, and the reissue on the right.

The original Thambar (which comes from the Greek word for “blurred” or “out-of-focus”) was designed with portraiture in mind, and has become an extremely collectible lens due to its low production numbers and unique rendering. The lens has two aperture scales, with one designed to be used when the included center filter is attached, which further increases the soft-focus effect. This design feature has been carried over to the reissued lens, which has now an E49 (49mm) filter size.

The new Thambar brings together classic design with modern construction.
The new Thambar brings together classic design with modern construction.

 Leica Thambar_00028_rgb

The official release, from Leica:

Leica Camera is pleased to expand its line of classic lenses with the Leica Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2. First introduced in the mid-1930s where only about 3,000 units were produced, the new Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 has the same optical design but a modified exterior. The lens still produces the same dreamy, soft focus look of the original 83-year old lens.

When the Thambar was originally released in 1935, Leica lenses were already renowned for their exceptionally sharp rendition. So it was all the more surprising when Leitz introduced a soft focus lens which – despite being named after the Greek term ‘thambo’, meaning ‘blurred’ – gave rise to images whose romantic aesthetics are not only unmatched by any other lens to this day, but also impossible to replicate in digital post-processing.

This makes the new Thambar-M an exciting counterpoint to Leica’s other 90mm focal length lenses, and allows the modern-day photographer to experience the unique characteristics of this classic lens; or as the Greek would say, ‘me thambose me teen omorfia tis’ – ‘to be blinded by beauty.’

The Leica Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 offers the following benefits:
  • Optical design similar to the original Thambar-M 9cm f/2.2.
  • Lens elements are now single-coated to protect the glass from the elements and corrosion.
  • Ensures the same, distinctive dreamy, soft focus look and unmistakable bokeh.
  • Provides unmistakable imaging signature which cannot be reproduced by other lenses or digital processing.
  • Same proportions as original lens, with black paint finish and red and white aperture scales. Red scale applies when the included center spot filter is in place, for a more dramatic soft focus effect. When working without the center spot filter, the white aperture scale is used.
  • Meticulously crafted to the highest quality standards, with a primary focus on high-grade materials and durability.
  • Made in Germany, with a delivery scope that includes: metal lens hood, center spot glass filter with metal rim, metal lens cap and a hard leather case in vintage brown color – similar to the original.

 Leica has provided a variety of images which show the lens’ soft-focus properties.

L1000555

L1000702

L1000469

With an almost painterly rendering achieved entirely in-camera, the Thambar creates images like no other lens in Leica’s current lineup. I imagine this lens could add a unique twist to a wide variety of subject matter, especially when paired with live view on a camera like the M10 or SL, which would allow for precise control over the focusing effect. Although this could be a fun lens on the TL2 as well, where it would become a 135mm f/2.2!

Thambar_M_Ambient_7

L1020354_rgb

The lens is priced at $6,495. Leica StoreMiami is accepting orders, either by calling 305-921-4433, emailing us or clicking the link below:




For other articles on this blog please click on Blog Archive in the column to the right

To comment or to read comments please scroll past the ads below.

All ads present items of interest to Leica owners.


_________________________________________________________________________



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Buy vintage Leica cameras from 
America's premier Leica specialist 

                          
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